Fight Back to Protect Our Undocumented Mormon Brothers and Sister’s in Utah!

By William Van Wagenen

Recently, many people in state governments across the country have been trying to pass racist laws that attack our undocumented brothers and sisters. The first state to pass such a law was Arizona. This required the local Arizona police to check the papers of anyone they suspected might be in the country illegally, and have these people arrested and put in jail with the hope of deporting them.

As many people know, a private prison company wrote the law and asked Arizona lawmakers to pass it. They wanted to do this to fill their prisons with more undocumented immigrants, and to get more contracts from the federal government to build even more prisons. So this law was really just a scheme to make money for capitalists.

As many people also know, the lawmaker in Arizona that introduced this law is a Mormon. His name is Russell Pearce. Even worse, a lawmaker in Utah who is also Mormon, Stephen Sandstrom tried to bring the same racist law from Arizona to Utah.

Rep. Stephen Sandstrom is surrounded by protesters as he introduced his racist legislation last Fall

Because many people in Utah knew how racist this law was, Sandstrom had no choice but to make some changes to the proposed law so it would not be as bad as the Arizona law and so it could pass in Utah.

People like Pearce and Sandstrom are giving our Church, the Mormon Church, a bad name, and making people think that Mormons are racist. This has really hurt missionary work, especially in Arizona.

But what is way more important than the LDS Church’s image, and what most people don’t realize, is that many of our fellow Mormons are being victimized by these laws. Many undocumented immigrants in Utah and Arizona are members of the Mormon Church. They are members of our congregations. They are bishops and home teachers and members of the Relief Society. So these racist laws are attacking our fellow Mormons and dividing Mormon families.

For example, Felix Callejas, an LDS branch president in Draper, Utah was detained by U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE) agents on April 19 2011 after a failed attempt to obtain legal asylum from his native country of El Salvador. He is awaiting deportation, while his wife and child have gone into hiding. Brother Callejas led a congregation of about 100 members.

Racists say that undocumented immigrants like the Callejas family have no right to be here because they “broke the law.” These people forget that the US government helped devastate El Salvador in the 1980’s by supporting the Salvadoran military in its campaign of murder and torture that killed tens of thousands. So these people criticize immigrants who cross a border without permission to flee destruction and violence, while keeping their mouths shut about the fact that these people were often fleeing the heinous crimes of our own government.

Remains of victims of the infamous El Mozote massacre where US-backed Salvadoran forces murdered at least one thousand men, women and children

Also ignored by opponents of undocumented immigrants are the devastating effects that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) had on small farmers in Mexico, driving many to come to the US without documents.

Unfortunately, our undocumented brothers and sisters in the Church will not get any help from the rich, gringo Mormons who dominate the Utah legislature and are part of the business community in this state.

As the Book of Mormon tells us, they spend their time trying to “get gain and grind upon the face of the poor (2 Nephi 26:20).” We know that “because they are rich they despise the poor, and they persecute the meek, and their hearts are upon their treasures; wherefore, their treasure is their god (2 Nephi 9:30).”

So we Mormons, both documented and undocumented, need to organize together as congregations to get active politically to fight back against these racist laws. We need to attend the marches and join any organizations here in Utah that commit to fighting these laws.

Mass March for undocumented immigrants' rights in Salt Lake City, March 2011. Organized by United for Social Justice, the Revolutionary Students Union, and the Mormon Worker.

It’s like Brigham Young once said, we need to pray like everything depends on God, and work like everything depends on us. This is how we can win and make Utah a place where everyone has equal rights! We need to have a Zion society where all are alike unto God (2 Nephi 26:33), where there is no racism, and where everyone has the right to live and work in peace, documented and undocumented alike!